I will take it, the aging poet said to the ever more sparse crowd at the weekly open mic, as a recognition is the growth in the quality of my writing that I continue being rejected but now by a much higher quality of literary journals.
By hour six, the plane was just a lumbering beast dividing the sky, halfway from God knows where to nowhere special. His body cried for sleep but he knew he had to deny it. That much he had learned from prior trips. For when he landed, made his way painfully slowly into the city, it would be early evening when he arrived at his hotel. He knew he needed to be on the edge of exhaustion. Only that way could he grab a meal from the 7 Eleven down the block, and finally get to sleep, reasonably fresh in the morning. It would be a long day. Each day in Tokyo was a long day of endless meetings and negotiations. It was mind numbing, but he was paid well to suffer it. And he knew that on his last day in the city he would have time to board the subway for Asakusa. There he would wander slowly down the line of stalls, to the great gate of Senso-ji Temple, its giant lantern shedding no light, and peer at the Buddha Hall in the distance. There would be school children in neat uniforms, always hand in hand, and pigeonss, flocking around them and anyone who looked gaijin, easy marks for photos and handouts. And the orange tiger cat would huddle at the base of the nearby Buddha seeking enlightenment. For that hour or so he was in a different world. The giant city melted away. His thoughts grew placid as he placed his incense into to giant earthenware jokoro then washed its smoke over his face and shoulders. He bowed to the young monk carefully writing the prayer sticks. He stood silent at the foot of the Buddha Hall, a conversation no one could hear, one that everyone here was having simultaneously. Time does not yield, and as it ran thin, he headed back to the subway knowing his fortune without purchasing it for 100 yen. A simple fortune really, a return visit on his next trip to Tokyo and maybe a side trip to Kyoto, and as the icing on his taiyaki, a trip to Nara, to again wander the grounds of Todai-ji and commune with the deer at first light, in the shadow of the Daibutsu. On the flight home he thought of the moments in Buddha’s shadow, the resounding of the great bell. He smiled recalling the red bibbed jizo, knowing they gave up Buddhahood to help those like him, still lost on the path. He is saddened knowing he will soon be back in his world, the daily grind, this trip shortened, as all return trips are. And when he lands, goes through Immigration and customs, when they ask if he has anything to declare, he may say “just a moment of kensho.”
“I will take it,” the aging poet said to the ever more sparse crowd at the weekly open mic, “as a recognition is the growth in the quality of my writing that I continue being rejected but now by a much higher quality of literary journals.”
After years of embarrassment I have finally come into the light. It isn’t that my writing has improved, although I surmise that would be a narrow space to fill, or that I can now draw things that were once stick people and animals and things.
What has improved, and improved significantly is my singing voice, once a three note range, and one not known to music, but now I carry complex tunes to near perfection.
If you ask how this is possible, I will let you in on a secret, it is all in the audience, and mine is now limited to those stone deaf.
I was born the same day, in a much later year as Thornton Wilder, a fact that had no impact at all on my life, since I discovered our common birthday long after my life’s path was half tread.
I read him in my youth, and must admit I can recall nothing of what I read, which I attribute to all that I have read since, and not as any criticism of Wilder’s writing, for his talent is beyond question.
But what was disconcerting was to learn that Nick Hornby was born five years to the day after me and has penned works that I love but cannot hope to equal despite my having lived longer if not more fully than he has.
It was a plain white envelope quite large, laying in the mailbox, a name and return address, nothing out of the ordinary until I realized there were no stamps, just a marking, Postage Paid Melbourne Vic.
Inside was a magazine and within two poems with which I was familiar but which were now being read on the opposite side of the globe and I had to wonder what the Aussies would think of a crazy, aging Yank poet.